Thursday, March 15, 2007

Kobayashi Maru

Okay I confess. I'm a Trekky. I've always loved Star Trek and most science fiction. My favorite science fiction stories are the ones that make the most effective use of the genre. Good Sci-Fi is rarely about what life is like in the future or about aliens or space travel. They just use those vehicles to tell a deeper story with a more "universal" theme.

In Star Trek 2, the Wrath of Kahn, and incidentally the best of the movies, there is a scene in the beginning where the crew is playing a training war-game. They have to rescue a ship named the Kobayashi Maru. All Starfleet officers must take this test before graduation. That particular test is un-winable. No matter what action is taken the crew of the Kobayashi Maru, the Enterprise or both are doomed to be destroyed. The point is to see how officers will react once things really start hitting the fan. They are graded on the order that they start making sacrifices and how they react when they can no longer rely on the procedures that they've been taught to follow.
Since Star Trek 2 I have learned that the Air Force uses a similar technique in their flight simulators. They slowly start adding elements until the pilot has too many protocols to be able to follow them all. Just like the Kobayashi Maru they are judge based on their priorities as they start ignoring certain procedures.
I've noticed that in my life several times I've had to make decisions in similar situations. I didn't have all the information that I needed to make a 100% well thought out decision however if had waited until I had all that information it would have been too late and other things more important would have been neglected.
In the movie Kirk had the reputation as the only one who had ever won the
Kobayashi Maru. As you find out later in the movie he actually cheated. Philosophically he didn't believe in the concept of a no win situation. So he hacked the computer and slowed the program down to allow him time to rescue the ship and save his own crew.
In spite of his "cheating" later in the movie he was presented with a real life no win situation. Just when he thought he had beaten the odds again he found out that it was only by sacrificing his best friend's life. He finally had to learn the lesson that he had cheated his way though earlier in his life.
Just like in Star Trek, frequently in life we have to make really tough decisions.
In the long run I don't believe that getting every answer right is the most important goal. We need to realize that our priorities can help us make the best of a situation where one goal has to be sacrificed to achieve the rest.
Good fiction uses the setting and genre to convey themes and ideas that are much closer to reality than we may at first want to accept. I believe that sci-fi has a greater potential to illustrate these themes than most genres.
So just like M*A*S*H was never intended to be about the Korean War. Star Trek was never about space exploration. Those were just the vehicles used to teach truths that are much closer to home.

1 comment:

  1. The needs of the many out way the needs of the one.

    Such a good movie!